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Down with Madisonian pluralism!

John Rao, whose NYC lectures on Church history I mentioned a while back, has a new website that includes his writings he thinks worth making public. They touch on some of the same issues I write about, the bizarre inversions of pluralism for example, but in a more outraged, partisan, stylish, distinctly Catholic, and (some would object) anti-American manner.

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Sex and seminarians

So far as I can tell, the Catholic Church has always said officially that if you’re what’s called “gay” you shouldn’t become a priest. Also, at the highest levels the Church has always been independent enough to say, perhaps after hemming and hawing and various delays, what they think is so on important issues. That’s why you have a pope and he gets his own little country. So the bottom-line position in the recent Doomsday Document on same-sex inclined seminarians isn’t particularly surprising. For me, an aspect that’s more interesting, at least from the standpoint of theory, is the justification offered, that

The candidate to the ordained ministry … must reach affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood towards the Church community that will be entrusted to him … those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture” … find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.

So the basic point is that homosexuality undermines the sex-role and familial stereotypes that are part of what constitute the Church and good human relations within it, as demonstrated by the rule that only men can be ordained to the priesthood. For my own part, I favor those stereotypes, I think they’re part of what constitute every normal human being and every possible society. Still, all respectable people and mainstream authorities insist that the opposite position is part of basic rationality and human decency. I wonder how this aspect of the Instruction will play out?

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Is there actually an issue here?

I don’t see why the “no ban on gays” that’s currently expected for Catholic seminaries is so different from the “ban on gays” people thought was going to come out. If you have a guy who doesn’t have homosexual inclinations that would create a risk in an all-male environment, and he’s not involved in “gay culture,” and he hasn’t done anything homosexual in the past few years, why would you call him “gay”?

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A further note on Islam

Another way to make the point touched on in my last entry is that Islam is found mostly in multiethnic and multicultural societies, which in their most characteristic form become ruled by transnational bureaucracies like the Mamluks with the aid of of radically denationalized professional armies like the Janissaries or for that matter (in a variation on the theme) the Knights Templar or Knights of Malta. Such societies are unable consistently to defend themselves against foreign invasion, and so eventually succumb to Islamic conquerors. Once they are conquered the Muslim Ummah and Shariah become a sort of palliative for their radical divisiveness and the absence of any basis for political cooperation, while that same divisiveness drives the conquerors to devise a ruling institution without ties of loyalty outside the institution itself and thus composed of slaves or kidnapped non-Muslims.

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History, geography, society and Islam

The various complaints about Islam and Muslim society at View from the Right and elsewhere (aggressiveness, deviousness, honor killings, polygamy, female genital mutilation, political irrationality, organized punitive rape, etc., etc., etc.), to the extent they reflect realities, suggest a common explanation related to the circumstance that Islam appeared where it did and spread mostly by force of arms.

As a religion of conquest, Islam has been most successful in parts of the world that have been unable consistently to defend themselves because of political and social incoherence due to a very long history of political, social and even demographic instability. Geography has always made the Middle East, Central Asia and Northern India radically contested areas repeatedly plagued by conquerors, movements of peoples, and fluctuating despotic empires run by foreigners. As a result, in that part of the world it has been every man—or rather every small group—for itself. A radically divided form of society developed that featured intense local loyalties and enmities and lacked any civic feeling or public life. It is in that kind of society (or rather asocial state) that Islam began and has mostly existed.

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More noodling about evolution

I recently touched on the ambiguity of “random variation” as one of the basic principles of evolution. The word “random” appears to be something of a placeholder. From the point of view of any science, it seems that random events are simply events the science doesn’t try to explain that follow a normal distribution or some such so the science can state laws by reference to their probabilities. A criminologist, for example, might have theories about the incidence and causes of crime and be able to show various correlations, but he would treat many features of actual criminal activity, whether there were 4 murders last week and 5 this week or the reverse, as simply random. He wouldn’t be impressed if you told him that murder is intentional and so not random, because his science does not deal with specific intentions of particular criminals. Nor should the rest of us be impressed if a murderer says it’s unfair to hold him responsible for what a criminologist would call a very small random fluctuation in the crime statistics.

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Amateur noodling about evolution

I’ve never put much effort into sorting out the dispute over evolution and intelligent design, partly because it would take too much work and partly because I really don’t understand why, rationally speaking, there’s such an issue.

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Evolution flap

I don’t really understand the to-do between Cardinal Schönborn and his critics over evolution. [If you look lower down on the linked page you’ll find his original NYT op-ed piece, together with the paper’s commentary.]

As I understand the Cardinal’s and Church’s point (I think His Eminence presented it in an overly partisan and combative way) he’s denying that random variation and natural selection fully explain why we have just these species with just these characteristics rather than other species with other characteristics. The considerations that lead him to believe God exists and does particular things also lead him to believe that among the things God has done through particular action is to bring about human life with its special qualities (e.g., the capacity for theoretical knowledge and for moral thought and action). Accordingly, the most reasonable total explanation for life in the form it has specifically taken, he believes, would include the proposition that God brought it about and it didn’t happen just by chance. If part of that explanation does not constitute a scientific theory, then that just shows that modern natural science is not the total explanation for everything. But what’s so shocking about that?

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Lefties and virtues

In an email discussion a Lefty said:

The religious right believes promiscuity is bad because the Supreme Being and Creator of the Universe doesn’t like it, never has and never will. The left believes it’s good or bad depending on the consequences on this earth, in this lifetime, and those are going to change over time. The left’s morality comes from the ground, not from the sky.

Between liberals, fundies, fideists and bad education that’s quite a common view here in America. My response:

If Catholics are part of the religious right then at least one wing of the RR thinks natural law is enough to cover the point. Natural law says promiscuity is at odds with a good life here and now as the good life can be understood without reference to any specific revelation. From that point of view to attempt to deal with something that touches us as closely as sex by a sort of technical and administrative analysis of the kind the Consumer Products Safety Board might apply to microwave emissions seems inhuman and bizarre.

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Wait until times change and people can look back

He was an admirable man, but why not leave the judgment of history to the passage of time? Rushing into these things has a bullying quality: Petition Declaring That Pope John Paul II Should By Public Acclamation Be Known Henceforth and Forever As John Paul the Great.

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How words become reality

Not surprisingly, people who believe that gender is socially constructed think the same of truth. Here’s a report that touches on both points: APA Study Says: “Who Needs Dad?” There’s nothing very complicated about the situation. If you want something to count as true, in judicial proceedings for example, you just generate a lot of expert statements to that effect and—bingo!—it’s accredited as true!

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Less is more

Since Vatican II the updated Church has fallen into the unfortunate updated habit of churning out an ever-increasing flood of words and events. That rather misses the point, it always seemed to me. Didn’t people use to talk about a “small still voice” and that sort of thing in connection with religion?

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Terrifying religious tyranny

Here’s a list of Benedicts’s deeds of terror while Grand Inquisitor: Timeline of principal doctrinal decisions, documents, 1981-2005.

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Query on "mixing politics and religion"

So far as I can tell, “religion in politics” means that people vote and so on based on what they think the world is actually like, how we know things, what the point of life is, what makes life good or bad and so on. What’s the purified alternative to that?

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Archbishop Levada

Here’s some background on the new guy in the Pope’s old job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. My best guess is that the Pope thinks the Church’s big problems are in Europe and America. On that view it’s natural he’d appoint (if available) a theologically-trained American with CDF experience who’s personally orthodox, well-respected by the American hierarchy and willing to take orders.

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The liturgy and American constitutionalism

I was discussing America, the Constitution, the liturgy and the Roman Catholicism with an Anglican and Americanist friend. It occurred to me that the issues were all related, so I decided I’d put them somewhat together. On the liturgy I said (in an edited way):

My vote for the Novus Ordo for now would be to improve the way it’s done—improve the translations, have the priest once again face the same direction everyone else faces, and put more and more of it back in Latin. That would be very much in line with what Vatican II said should be done, and it could be carried out without any formal changes in liturgical rules if bishops and priests liked the idea and decided to take it piece by piece. If you don’t have support in the clergy for this kind of stuff you’re not likely to get anywhere anyway.

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Habemus papum ("We've got pap")

That was the response of Time magazine to the papal election. They’re following through on their boast with yet another piece presenting the event as the outcome of a Machievellian campaign by Vatican insiders:

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Conclaves, papal revolutionaries and weblogs

For some interesting discussions of the upcoming conclave see the pieces by “Sandro Magister,” an Italian journalist with a pen name, at www.chiesa.

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Will the next pope be an admired world figure?

It seems to me there’s a certain parallel between John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. Both were immensely popular for their hopefulness, their buoyancy, their ability to connect with all sorts of people, their love for what they led, their directness and willingness to stand on principle. Both were viewed with a mixture of contempt and grudging admiration by those who count as our betters.

Both were also actors. In Reagan’s case it seems that his success was both the culmination and the incipient final collapse of the postwar conservative movement, and more generally of an America that stood for ideals but was not itself wholly abstract, so that it made sense to speak of things like “American traditions,” “limited government,” and “pride in America” as things we could share that would knit us together. It turned out that he had achieved success by seeming to make present something that had all but disappeared.

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A theological note

I went to a lecture yesterday on the ins and outs of the Arian heresy. Obscure though the Arians may sound today, when John Henry Newman studied them and their sympathizers around 1830 the situation reminded him of nothing so much as the Anglican church, lots of politicos and time-servers with no bottom line making a virtue of things by calling a mess the “via media.” To me the whole thing seems more like the Church in recent decades:

  • Intellectual entrepreneurs make careers for themselves based on novel interpretations that are flashy and hard to get rid of based on current ways of thinking even though they’re clearly wrong from a normal perspective.
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